ROBBIE NEILSON believes playing tomorrow’s Europa League return leg at Estonia’s national stadium gives Hearts an advantage over opponents FC Infonet.
The Edinburgh club fly out this morning carrying a 2-1 lead from the first leg and seeking to finish the tie in Tallinn’s 10,000-capacity Le Coq Arena.
The match was switched from Infonet’s Lasnamäe KJH Stadium, which cannot accommodate more than 1000 people. Changing venue will remove much of Infonet’s home advantage and could play into Hearts’ hands. Neilson feels a bigger crowd, larger playing surface and different environment might suit his players.
“Infonet are a new club but they’ve progressed a lot in the last two or three years and they’ve brought good players in,” said the Tynecastle head coach. “It will be different for them because they’re playing at a different ground. Playing at the national stadium instead of their pitch probably helps us a little bit.
“We’ve trained and done our prep yesterday. We fly today, then we go to the stadium. It’s a different environment. We’re on the pitch for 45 minutes just running through a few things. Then we prepare tomorrow so it is a wee bit different. At the end of the day, it’s 90 minutes on a football pitch. It’s up to us to go and perform.”
Neilson reiterated the need for Hearts to score an away goal to be sure of reaching the Europa League’s second qualifying round. He has no plans to defend the 2-1 lead secured at Tynecastle. “The hope is we go and score early. That would give us more of an advantage again,” he continued. “We really need to go there and score. We can’t sit and try to defend a 0-0. In Europe, it’s very dangerous to do that. We need to perform and try and play.”
Unsatisfied with the first-leg performance, Neilson expects much improvement from his team after some jeering from fans at home. “We accept that, the performance wasn’t great and we spoke about it in the dressing-room. It’s up to us to put on a performance and energise the fans,” he acknowledged.
“The fans come along and they want to see football played well. We didn’t hit the levels we’re used to but you want to have that expectation. I’d far rather be at a football club where they’re always pushing and trying to improve than somewhere where they’re just happy with mediocrity.
“We want to be a team trying to push in the league and the Europa League. That’s the standards there have always been at this club. We have to accept that, with the praise that comes, there’s going to be criticism if you don’t perform.”
Striker Robbie Muirhead and midfielder Morgaro Gomis are fit to travel to Estonia. Don Cowie was not registered for this round of the Europa League because of a calf injury so he again misses out.
Meanwhile, Hearts have offered a one-year deal to trialist goalkeeper Viktor Noring. “Viktor played on Saturday [against Cowdenbeath] and did really well so we’ve offered him a contract,” said Neilson. “He’s gone back to Sweden to speak to his family and his agent, then he’ll get back to us in a couple of days. He liked the place and we’re looking for somebody to come in and compete with Jack Hamilton.
“Viktor is a good size, he’s a good character and he’s at a decent age where he can progress further. He ticked a lot of boxes for us. I’d like to get an idea of where we are with him by Friday.”
Teenage defender Jordan McGhee will join Middlesbrough on a one-year loan, a move first revealed by the Evening News. The Teesside club saw a deal for McGhee fall through at the last minute in January. “Jordan was really keen to go after they’d been in for him in January,” explained Neilson. “He had his heart set on going down there so we just felt it was the right thing to do for him. If the player wants to go, it’s up to them.
“It’s a loan move. They’ll have a look at him and then we’ll discuss it from there. Jordan has had his heart set on going down to England for a couple of years now. We’ve been saying: ‘You need to stay and try to progress.’ There comes a stage when he’s desperate to go that you have to let him do it.”